Woodward & Costa On The Peril Of Trump

Two of the planet's best reporters uncover more details about the Trump administration.

  
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In the year or so that I’ve been podcasting, this may be the most significant conversation I’ve recorded. It’s a civil, careful examination of the core political question we face today: how can we save liberal democracy from becoming tyranny? The skill with which Bob Woodward and now Robert Costa have put together a chronology of the Trump administration should remind us of how truly grave the threat was — and is. No hyperbole here; just brutal realism and a refusal to deny what is staring us in the face.

Something new for the Dishcast this week: video. If you’re a paid subscriber and want to watch as well as listen to my discussion with Bob and Robert in our DC studio, go here. Or check out this short clip of the 1.5 hour episode:

You can listen to the full audio version right away in the audio player embedded at the top of this post, or right below it you can click “Listen in podcast app,” which will connect you to the Dishcast feed. For two audio clips — on the various signs of Trump’s insanity, and on how the non-interventionist president still got us on the brink of war — head over to our YouTube page.

Staying on the topic of Trump, several readers reflect on the episode we did last month with Michael Wolff. The first writes:

I really appreciate your measured but firm concern about Trump, and I thoroughly enjoyed your conversation with Wolff, whose overall take on Trump — not a mastermind but a moronic, egomaniacal, accidentally genius, dangerous rabble-rouser — has always seemed the most accurate one.

But what I’d add to your essay on “Deepening Menace of Trump” is that, if he’s re-elected (and I agree with you that it’s VERY possible), the GOP and the various amoral grifters attached to Trump will have had four years to give far more purpose to strip-mining democracy.

Whereas the first time around, Trump was an unguided missile, someone who no one was sure could be manipulated, it’s now clear he can be maneuvered to do all sorts of catastrophic harm by people skilled at flattering his demented ego and exploiting his proud ignorance of history and how government works. Take the first Trump presidency and add to it the steely discipline of GOP cynicism and the ever-increasing, violent insanity of his cult followers, and your “deepening menace” becomes lethally nihilistic on many levels. 

This next reader, on the other hand, gives Trump much more credit:

Michael Wolff has such a narrow, one-dimensional view of Trump that it’s hard to swallow completely. I voted for Trump because he lacked the smooth rehearsed qualities of professional politicians. I hoped a businessman would provide refreshing leadership. (After all, Reagan the Actor turned out to be quite wonderful in most respects.)

I have lived to regret my vote for Trump, because his hideous personality has completely overshadowed his accomplishments. If he had stayed out of view and simply put forward his agenda, I believe he would have been re-elected. His response to Covid was far better than Biden’s, something the mainstream press has given Trump little credit for. The great masking debate notwithstanding, it truly was Operation Warp Speed. And while many, including myself, are impatient with anti-vaxxers, you should pull out the clips of Kamala Harris casting doubt on a “Trump vaccine.”

If Trump had been re-elected, would the Left be the main vaccine holdouts? Maybe so.

Other Trump accomplishments include:

  • Slowing illegal immigration and his success in requiring asylum-seekers to remain in Mexico.

  • He was derided for trying to work with Kim Jong-Un, an impossible task, but Trump managed to put a pause on North Korean nuclear reactor development. Under Biden, the reactor has again been fired up. No other president did anything meaningful on this front.

  • Largely ignored was Trump’s successful efforts to broker some degree of cooperation between Israel and Arab countries.

  • A less tangible benefit of a Trump presidency was a restored national pride and confidence. Obama seemed ashamed or disdainful of our country. America is truly a place where opportunity is endless and anyone can make good, and he didn’t seem to appreciate that.

In my opinion, the Trump accomplishments prove that he was more than just a crazy guy who couldn’t pay attention.

Speaking of policies under a GOP administration, a reader has a suggestion:

I completely agree with your 2019 argument for nuclear power as a means of combating climate change. My recent brainstorm on the issue: on a political level, GOP primary candidates who are pro-nuclear seem much more likely to succeed than Dem primary candidates who are pro-nuclear. Is it time to reach out, or prod, the Republican Party to make it happen? Steal the entire issue of the environment while putting millions to work building power plants? Launch perhaps 10 years of sustained old-school infrastructure stimulus? Own the libs by making them live through an American nuclear Renaissance?

This could win a lot of elections. But probably only on the GOP side, God help us.

Yes! But of course no.

Another Trump voter compares his administration to the current one:

I would argue that Trump’s domestic and foreign policies were superior, on balance, to Biden’s. Foreign policy: taking action against China and forging Pacific relationships to that end; insisting that the Europeans fulfill their commitments to a common defense; the brokered deal between Serbia and Kosovo; and pursuing the Abraham accords. Domestic policy: the border policies; Operation Warp Speed; promoting our energy independence; and the tax cut that spurred economic growth. 

While both Biden and Trump supported the exit from Afghanistan, Biden has to take full responsibility for the withdrawal fiasco. The Infrastructure and “Build Back Better” pork bills will bankrupt my children and grandchildren and drive the economy to ruin. Inflation is back now. While the Delta variant is causing harm, one can’t blame Biden (too much), except for letting our scold-in-chief, Dr. Anthony Fauci, flap his jaws in excess. Pandemics affect both Republicans and Democrats. 

One reason that many Republicans and Independents support Trump is that he opposed the inclinations of the Administrative State. Many working-class folks feel disempowered by our elites. It’s their way or the highway.

Biden generally supports the “wokerati.” People are getting fed up. Look at the minor “revolts” at school board meeting over masking children. Statistically, there is little threat to kids. People are fed up with the denigration of our country and the push to institute Critical Race Theory throughout our institutions.

I hope that Trump doesn’t run again. I agree that he is a boisterous, divisive and cantankerous. I would not want to work for him. However, if he’s the nominee of the Republican Party running against either Biden or Harris, I will gladly support Trump. I was aghast at the January 6th riot. Yet the BLM riots were far more damaging to the country. Biden was elected as a unifier, but he’s as divisive as Trump.

So if it becomes a choice of two evils, I choose Trump as the lesser of the two.

Another reader underscores a big part of Trump’s foreign policy record:

As a Bulgarian American, who now lives in Brussels, I am mostly interested in the effect of different US presidents on foreign affairs. By looking at the data, unlike all of his predecessors, the much maligned Trump is actually the first one who did not start a new war with the aim of feeding the military-industrial complex that has been ruling America since WWII.

I am amazed how little attention people pay to the actual policies of our presidents, and the media distracts the people by emphasizing the character of the president. Obama was a nice person, yet a horrible president. Trump was the opposite. I feel that instead of talking about Trump’s craziness, people, especially in Europe, should erect a monument for him because he did not start any new wars that ultimately hit the EU. (Remember the “Fuck the EU” line by the Obama appointees who fomented the Ukraine-Russia war?)

Here’s one more reader, on “Stop the Steal”:

I regularly read that “two-thirds of Republican voters believe the election was stolen,” as you quoted, and I simply don’t believe it. I believe the pollsters; I don’t believe the poll respondents.

It just seems impossible to me that 48 million Americans really believe that. If even a small fraction of that number believed Trump had the election stolen from him, there would be mass protests, riots — civil war basically — which would have shaken our country to its knees by now. Trump would be chaining his fat ass to the White House door. And as much as I loathe and fear Trump, if I believed the election had been stolen by the Democrats, I’d be out there raising hell, too. 

Instead, we had a few thousand goons cosplaying the “radical” on January 6th.  This was not nothing. The entire thing was and remains terrifying. But again, I believe very few people even there, in their hearts, believed that the election had really been stolen. (My fear is that among them were some flinty-eyed young men a la Timothy McVeigh, true believers on a mission.) 

Most of my family have sadly gone full MAGA, and when I confront them about Trump’s election lies, they sort of mumble something about “Well ... I don’t know, but I don’t trust those Democrats.” It reminds me of their half-denials of climate change and flabby anti-vaccination positions: they are more statements of group membership than expressions of true belief. When liberals call them “stupid” or “uniformed,” they are missing the point. It’s not about having grappled intellectually with these positions and come to the wrong conclusions. These are just public stands being taken, symbolic lines being drawn that transcend the actual issue at hand.  

In the same way, I want us to call “bullshit” on progressive cry-bullies who disingenuously claim to have been made to feel “unsafe” by a pronoun they don’t like. We should not be taking the claims of Trumpets on face value. We should call them out for their lack of sincerity. “Really, you believe Democrats denied Trump a landslide victory and all you can do is complain that Biden is a geriatric socialist?

This reality might be more horrifying than them simply being under the spell of bad information. But I think we would do ourselves all a favor by seeing through the facade.

I hope you’re right. I really do. Let me add one thing to these dissents: I’m really proud that The Weekly Dish has such a diversity of opinion among our readers and subscribers. You’re as much a part of what we offer as my own scribblings are. Keep writing. We’ll keep posting: dish@andrewsullivan.com.